Things have certainly taken a turn for the worst in the Bronx. As of Sept. 19, the New York Yankees sit 9.5 games back of the juggernaut Red Sox with 11 games to go, a seemingly impossible feat to overcome.
In sports, it’s usually the teams that finish the strongest who are the most successful in the post-season.
Since the all-star break, the Yanks’ have gone a pedestrian 31-25, letting their lead in the first Wild Card spot dwindle down from a secure six games, to two and a half in just over a six-week period.
There are no excuses for this team, plain and simple. Sure, they have had their fair share of key injuries, but so have all teams. With the deep and talented roster that the Yankees possess, combined with playing in the inferior American League, this team should be resting their players and getting ready to host the American League Wild Card game on Oct. 2.
As far as losing the division is concerned, it’s really hard for me to be upset with this team. As of Sept. 19, the unstoppable Sox sit at 103-49 and still have 11 games to go. Incredible. Boston is having a once in a century season. In fact they have a shot to go on to have one of the best regular seasons in baseball history behind the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46), the 1906 Chicago Cubs (116-36) and the 1998 New York Yankees (114-48). However, I cannot say the same about potentially falling second to Billy Bean’s Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card race.
Sure, Oakland is having a very good season and do have some nice players in slugger Khris Davis and defensive wiz Matt Chapman, arguably the best defensive third baseman in the American League. However, this is no excuse for a team that was the first Wild Card and one win away from the World Series one year ago.
Since last year, all the Yankees have done is improve. They added pieces like Stanton, brought up rookie phenoms Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andújar while players like Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino have come into their own. To think that a team that was so successful last year, has so much talent and added so many important pieces would fall to the second Wild Card is hard to believe.
Securing the first Wild Card would be a huge advantage for the Bombers who have the second best home record in all of baseball (51-26). This would allow them to play in front of their passionate and energetic fans, hit in one of the friendliest hitters parks in baseball (as opposed to the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum) and would also prevent them from having to travel across the county to play a do or die game.
With everything that has gone wrong for the Yankees recently, there have been a few bright spots that if continue, could propel the Yankees to that much needed first Wild Card.
Yankees third baseman and rookie-of-the-year frontrunner Miguel Andújar has been keeping this team afloat. During this rough stretch for the Yankees in the second half, Andújar is hitting .325 with 38 RBI’s, 13 homeruns and 69 hits; all of which lead the team.
If Andújar can continue to tear the cover off the ball, it will allow struggling players like Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner to find their groove heading into the post-season while enabling injured stars like Aaron Judge to ease themselves back into the lineup.
Speaking of Judge, he is that much closer! After being activated off the DL on Sept. 14 and being limited to pinch-running and fielding situations, Judge took the field for live at-bats in a simulation game and suffered no setbacks. This is fantastic news for a team that desperately needs a spark.
Lastly, and most importantly, the bullpen needs to continue performing at a high level.
With the return of Aroldis Chapman from the DL on Sept. 19, the Yankees officially have four front-line closers on their roster: Zach Britton (3.41 ERA), David Robertson (2.85 ERA), Dellin Betances (2.77 ERA) and Chapman (2.11 ERA). Pair this with the likes of setup men Jonathan Holder (3.08 ERA) and Chad Green (2.42 ERA) and manager Aaron Boone will have plenty of arms in the case of a clunker by one of his starters.
On top of providing insurance for the starters, this sensational ‘pen also keeps hitters on their toes with their dramatic change in speed. Chapman can hit you with his 103 mph fastballs or one of his 85 mph sliders while Betances’ 12-6 curveballs freeze the best of hitters.
It is going to be a tough task for any lineup to navigate this flame-throwing bullpen. Combine this with the sensational rookies and the return of Judge and we have a solid recipe for success heading into the playoffs.
These last 11 games are by far the most important stretch of the season. Be successful, and they could find themselves hosting the Wild Card game for the second year in a row. Falter, and this potential 100-win team could be one and done in the playoffs.